Counting What Counts

Counting What Counts

Posted on July 20, 2022
One of the walls at The Patterson Foundation (TPF) dons a quote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

You may have seen this quote crop up often. In fact, within the philanthropic sector, it can often be a colloquialism thrown around with great regularity. But what does it mean to embody this as an organizational value?

How can the work move ideas, people, and communities from where they are to a thriving place? One of TPF’s approaches is the idea of From ------ To. For example, moving from outputs to outcomes.

Sometimes within the sector, we can spend much of our time worrying about the numbers. The number of participants, socioeconomic spectrums, and diversity quotas are all pieces of the puzzle begging for our attention. Sometimes, what can get lost is the personalized stories of change and the effect a program, initiative, or organization might have on an individual. Smiles are hard to count towards a budget, and strengthened family ties are difficult to quantify.

I think there is a way to turn these competing ideologies on their heads. What if instead of moving from X to Y, we moved both forward, together, in a beautiful and needed tension. What might form is a marriage of competing concepts.

Another of TPF’s ways of being is working to move from silos to systems — finding areas where we are seemingly working in isolation and striving to find a togetherness to propel the work. Sometimes our ideas and ways of existing can find themselves in silos. Why do metrics, stories, outputs, and outcomes, have to exist exclusively alone? What if our organizations became the most effective by using data, metrics, and quantitative analysis and paired that information with stories, smiles, and immeasurable aspects of the work to become the most informed group of doers?

It is absolutely true that not everything that can be counted, counts. But much of it does count. Much of it is important to forming our approaches. Basing our being on stories and perceived good seems like a recipe for illusion. On the flip side, only using metrics and forgetting to listen to our stakeholders seems equally detrimental to our community health.

If our organizations strived to marry data and lived experiences, we might see ourselves moving the needle in unexpected and unique ways. The tension of the seemingly competing ideologies might be what propels us to new heights, and the tension might be what unlocks our new way of being, serving, doing, and becoming.

What if, instead, we crafted a new quote, something to truly shake things up?
Count the things that need to be counted.
Find those within our communities, listen to their thoughts. Track effectiveness. Track numbers. Track smiles and hugs. Find a way to discover new areas of importance. Know that if there is no data, there is no story.

Remember, the things that count will be what make an impact on the lives of those we serve. As we strive to foster wide participation to strengthen people, organizations, and the community at TPF, we will remember to discover new ways of counting what counts.

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